11 Jun 2017

Reporting of terror linked to further attacks

From Mediawatch, 9:11 am on 11 June 2017

Behavioral economist Michael Jetter says just one minute of Al-Qaeda coverage in a US news bulletin causes approximately one terrorist attack in the upcoming week - resulting in an average of 4.9 deaths.

CNN interviewing the parents of a girls killed in the Manchester bombing.

CNN interviewing the parents of a girls killed in the Manchester bombing. Photo: screenshot

The University of Western Australia academic told Mediawatch that up to half of all Al-Qaeda attacks can be explained by the media coverage they receive in the US.

His latest paper, Terrorism and the Media: The Effect of US Television Coverage on Al-Qaeda Attacks, looked at day to day coverage of Al-Qaeda attacks post 9/11 until the end of 2015.

By comparing the number of terrorist attacks in weeks where natural disasters, such as hurricane Katrina, eclipsed the media's reporting of terrorist attacks with weeks in which terrorist attack were prominent, Dr Jetter was able to come up with what he says is a "statistically powerful" correlation between media reporting and subsequent attacks.

He says his research suggests that the blanket coverage given to the recent London terrorist attack will result in further attacks in the coming weeks.

"I don't want to be perceived as coming out and accusing the media of being complicit in these things. I don't think that's very helpful. But I think what we should have is an open discussion amongst journalists and editors about how you cover terrorism.

"Because I think it's very clear now, that if you cover it a lot, and very likely if you cover it in a sensationalist way, then you might encourage further attacks."

Dr Jetter says the media dedicate a disproportionate amount of space to terrorism.

"Al Qaeda on CNN and on Fox News and the other US television outlets has received more coverage than China and Russia combined since 9/11. And this is not on days of an attack... this on an average day."

He says the French daily Le Monde's decision to stop publishing the names and photos of terrorists is an interesting approach - but he can't say for sure whether it will make a difference or not.

Dr Jetter says he doesn't know why terrorist attacks show such a clear correlation with media coverage.

"You might see lone-wolf attacks go up, simply because someone who is on the verge of potentially going in an extremist direction would see an attack by someone else being covered in this over-hyped way. They see their profile is raised, on television their pictures are shown, their names are mentioned, their life story is discussed. And they do get a lot of fame. And if you see that and verge of moving in an extremist direction it might push you over the hump, it may not, we don't know for sure.

"So it could have an effect on lone wolves but it could also have an effect on the organisational structure of Al Qaeda, for example, or ISIS in thinking, 'yes' we do get the media coverage, we do get the media platform, when we do those attacks."